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Was a Police Report Altered to Convict a Man for Murder? Inside a Woman's Quest to Free Her Brother

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

In 2013, Steven Odiase was convicted for the shooting death of 15-year-old Juan Perez in the Bronx. At the time, the only evidence against the 31-year-old Odiase were the words of a lone eyewitness, who admitted to being intoxicated at the time of the murder. Odiase was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Then, Odiase's younger sister, Kalimah Truesdale, set out to prove her brother's innocence. She scoured the scene of the crime and eventually found a woman who said that she saw the shooting. Most shockingly, the woman said she had already spoken to a detective at the time of the murder and described the shooter as a man not matching Odiase's description. However, there was no mention of the woman's testimony in the version of the police report that was presented to Steven Odiase's defense attorney. For more on the mystery of this altered police report, we speak with Jonathan Edelstein, one of the lawyers who represented Steven Odiase, and with Jennifer Gonnerman, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her most recent piece is titled "A Woman's Quest to Prove Her Brother's Innocence Leads to a Discovery."

Please check back later for full transcript.

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#WageLove: Water Activists Build a Global Movement

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

Activist lawyers have been waging an epic battle in the courts to ensure that what happened to Flint and Detroit water doesn't happen again. Civil rights lawyer Alice Jennings was among the first to frame the human rights issues around Detroit's water shut-offs.

Grassroots efforts by Nicole Hill and Melissa Mays -- and the thousands of others fighting alongside them in Detroit and Flint to ensure access to safe and affordable drinking water in Michigan -- have galvanized public attention in recent years. But an equally epic battle has been waging in the courts, a slower-paced struggle to stop what is happening in Detroit and Flint and make sure it doesn't happen elsewhere.

Meet civil rights lawyer Alice Jennings. "If you were to actually order a burger with awesomesauce, it would just be Alice Jennings, sitting on your burger," Nicole Hill told us when we interviewed her in January. Sharp, commanding and full of laughter, Jennings was among the first to recognize the Detroit water shut-offs as a human rights issue, tipped off by early water warrior Charity Hicks. Ever since, she's been helping to frame the legal issues that will one day ensure your children -- or perhaps their children's children -- have access to affordable, clean, safe drinking water, even as this supposedly renewable resource is rapidly privatized.

"#WageLove" -- named for the hashtag water activists use to commemorate the contributions of Charity Hicks -- is a rare hopeful story from the Michigan water crisis. But the last before we look at land and housing, coming in May, will look at the widespread impact water profiteers have on public health.

ENDNOTES

  1. Personal interview with Alice Jennings, conducted on February 10, 2017.
  2. "Driver Who Killed Charity Hicks Pleads to Homicide and Leaving the Scene," Brad Aaron, Streetsblog NYC, March 22, 2016. Accessed March 27, 2017: http://nyc.streetsblog.org/2016/03/22/driver-who-killed-charity-hicks-pleads-to-homicide-and-leaving-the-scene/
  3. "$3000 Water Bills: Highland Park Residents' Water Struggles Continue," Vickie Thomas, CBS Detroit, January 23, 2014. Accessed March 27, 2017: http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2014/01/23/3000-water-bills-highland-park-residents-struggles-continue/
  4. "Contract for Detroit Water Shutoffs Doubles in One Year," Joel Kurth, The Detroit News, October 13, 2016. Accessed March 27, 2017: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2016/10/13/contract-detroit-water-shutoffs-doubles-one-year/92031538/
  5. "UN Officials 'Shocked' by Detroit's Mass Water Shutoffs," Laura Gottesdiener, Al Jazeera, October 20, 2014. Accessed March 28, 2017: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/20/detroit-water-un.html
  6. Michigan Water is a Human Right: Bill Package Summary, downloadable via "Join us at the State Capitol on March 22, for World Water Day!" People's Water Board, March 13, 2017. Accessed March 28, 2017: https://peopleswaterboard.org/2017/03/join-us-at-the-state-capitol-on-march-22-for-world-water-day.html
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How the Right-Wing Koch and DeVos Families Are Funding Hate Speech on College Campuses Across the US

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at CPAC 2017 in Oxon Hill, Maryland, February 23, 2017. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

On March 2, eugenicist Charles Murray attempted to give a lecture at Middlebury College in Vermont, with little success. Protesters shouted him down and he was sequestered in another room to answer questions over a livestream. Afterwards, Murray left the campus, but not before protesters blocked his car and injured a professor.

Labeled a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Murray is the author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which he argues that inequalities of race, gender and income exist because white men are smarter and genetically superior to black people, Latinos, women and the poor. Numerous academics have panned the book for its faulty reasoning and unprovable points.

So why is someone with such fringe ideas invited to speak on college campuses, and who pays for it? It's unlikely that many university departments would invite such an obviously racist and discredited figure. While co-presenting the Murray talk, the political science department did not invite Murray, nor did it contribute any funding for the event. The Middlebury student chapter of a far-right libertarian think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, asked him to speak, and AEI picked up the tab.

Murray is not the only controversial guest making the college circuit on a think tank's dime. Another conservative nonprofit, Young America's Foundation, also establishes student chapters at numerous universities and sends bigoted scholars and lecturers including Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and Ted Nugent to speak at their campus events free of charge. Bankrolling these nonprofits are conservative mega-donors including Charles and David Koch and the DeVos family, who by funding the organizations enable hate speech at institutions of higher education.

In addition, a production company connected to the right-wing billionaire Mercer family facilitated at least one college speaking gig of Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart News editor known for his racist, sexist, Islamophobic and anti-transgender vitriol.

Sending Murray to Colleges

Murray has been a scholar at AEI since 1990, four years before The Bell Curve was published. In 2013, AEI founded its college chapter program, and now there are "executive councils" at more than 80 colleges and universities. At a leadership training program available to executive council members this summer, Murray is teaching a course called "The Building Blocks of Human Flourishing."

Murray is a frequent invitee of AEI campus groups. He's now touring the country to talk about his 2012 book on the "state of white America" and gave talks at Duke University, Columbia, NYU, the University of Notre Dame and Villanova University in late March.

Regarding the recent Murray talk at Middlebury, AEI Executive Council member Alexander Khan told the Washington Post, "Our goal was not to create a controversy, but to start a discussion and a dialogue." Khan did not return requests for comment.

Dissenters see things differently. Nearly 500 Middlebury alumni wrote a letter to the college preceding Murray's attempted talk, saying that traditional free speech arguments fall flat in justifying his appearance. Murray's shoddy theories are "the same thinking that motivates eugenics and the genocidal white supremacist ideologies which are enjoying a popular resurgence under the new presidential administration."

AEI declined to comment for this story, but other reports claim that in sponsoring Murray's talk, the nonprofit is paying Murray's speaker fee directly.

AEI gets most of its funding from the foundations of wealthy conservatives and a pass-through group meant to shield the identity of these very donors. Donors Capital Fund, to which conservative mega-donors such as the Koch, DeVos and Bradley families donate, is AEI's biggest funder at nearly $23 million through 2014, according to ConservativeTransparency.org. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major funder of many conservative groups, is close behind, and foundations run by Charles Koch and Richard and Helen DeVos, the parents of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos, have given more than $1 million each to AEI.

Piling on the Hate Speech: Young America's Foundation

A similarly funded and probably even more conservative nonprofit, Young America's Foundation, works to direct "public education on the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise [and] traditional values and leadership," according to its most recent publicly available tax form. YAF spent roughly half of its 2015 budget of $17.7 million on conference and lecture programs including "lectures on college campuses" and student chapters.

Just like AEI, YAF has student chapters at colleges and universities around the nation. These "Young Americans for Freedom" chapters, which now exist at numerous institutions of higher learning as well as at high schools, can seek "logistical and financial assistance [from YAF] to host a big-name conservative speaker."

"Radical feminists, big government bureaucrats, fringe environmentalists, race-baiters, Islamo-fascists, and run of the mill leftists are distraught that [YAF chapters] would even think about promoting conservative ideas," the website states.

YAF's roster of more than 90 speakers features several notable bigots including Coulter, Horowitz and Nugent. YAF farms out its speakers at a quick pace, with roughly one event per day during the final three weeks of April.

Some campuses are having quite the year. For example, after a Yiannopoulos event that was canceled because a protest got out of hand, UCBerkeley had noted Islamophobe Horowitz speak on April 12 and will host Coulter on April 27.

"We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity," wrote Coulter in the National Review shortly after the 9/11 attacks, referring to allies of the 9/11 terrorists. An alumna of the YAF National Journalism Center's internship program, she often makes headlines for her outrageous racist and anti-Muslim statements and regularly writes for the white nationalist website VDARE.

YAF is providing "a large portion of the funding to bring Coulter to Berkeley" as well as "logistical support before the event as well as on-the-ground support from experienced staff."

Horowitz is a former leftist who took a hard-right turn decades ago and has now earned the titles of "anti-immigrant" and "anti-Muslim extremist" from the Southern Poverty Law Center. He runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which the SPLC calls "the premier financier of anti-Muslim voices and radical ideologies."

"Somewhere between 150 million and 750 million Muslims support a holy war against Christians, Jews, and other Muslims who don't happen to believe in the Quran according to Bin Laden," Horowitz erroneously claimed in 2007.

Among the particularly bigoted YAF speakers is anti-Muslim extremist Robert Spencer, who runs the hate site Jihad Watch, a project of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He has said, "[T]raditional Islam itself is not moderate or peaceful. It is the only major world religion with a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers."

YAF speaker Matt Walsh, an anti-LGBTQ "Christian columnist and political incendiary" for Glenn Beck's The Blaze, has called transgender people mentally ill and perverted and written that "'transgender' propaganda is wrong…demented…evil...dangerous [and] abusive."

Also on the YAF roster is musician and activist Ted Nugent, whose racist comments know no bounds. In 2014, he called the 44th president "a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel [and] ACORN community organizer gangster."

It's not just the YAF speakers who have racist and white nationalist leanings. Current YAF president Ron Robinson and board member James B. Taylor ran a now-inactive political action committee called America's PAC, which donated to the white nationalist Martel Society and consistently contributed to the campaigns of Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a white nationalist who has recently cheered far-right European nationalists. Taylor is also former president of the National Policy Institute, which is now run by noted neo-Nazi and "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer.

YAF founded the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major right-wing event that occurs every year. CPAC rescinded its invitation to 2017 keynote speaker Yiannopoulos after videos in which he defends pedophilia surfaced, although his long record of racist, sexist and xenophobic rants was apparently not a problem.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation is by far the biggest donor to YAF, and the Donors Capital Fund and its affiliate, Donors Trust, are also big contributors. The Bradley Foundation, three Koch family foundations and a foundation of the wealthy Mercer family have also given large donations.

YAF did not return a request for comment.

An "Alt-Righ" Provocateur on Campus

When Yiannopoulos, known for his wide-ranging hate speech, spoke at the University of Washington, the College Republicans group that had invited him had to raise money to cover increased security, as Yiannopoulos' events often attract large protests. The student group raised over $12,000 from a GoFundMe campaign organized by its president, and the event got the green light.

Yiannopoulos charged no speaking fee. A performance agreement obtained by MuckRock shows that Glittering Steel, the production company owned by white nationalist Trump adviser Steve Bannon and connected to the conservative Mercer family, wrote the contract. Yiannopoulos told TNR his speaking fee was $0 "on every stop of the Dangerous Faggot Tour." He did not directly answer questions about whether a private citizen or company paid his speaking fees behind the scenes and how exactly Glittering Steel was involved.

"Make America Number 1," the super PAC of billionaire investor Robert Mercer, paid Glittering Steel nearly $1 million last year. Mercer is a part owner of Breitbart News, which Bannon ran for four years before joining the Trump campaign last August. The hedge fund magnate was a big part of Trump's victory, and his daughter Rebekah was on the Trump transition team.

Yiannopoulos' Berkeley event was sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, according to Horowitz's online magazine, and was set to launch a joint campaign against sanctuary campuses. The Berkeley College Republicans had to provide more than $6,000 for increased security. An "anonymous donor" took care of part of that fee "with two conditions: that he remain anonymous and that the event occur."

The Freedom Center did not respond to a request for comment.

Free Speech or License to Discriminate?

In response to fringe, far-right speakers often facing student protests, conservative legislators in many states are pushing "campus free speech" legislation. Two think tanks funded in part by the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer created a model bill, on which many of the state bills are based, that calls for harsh penalties, including expulsion, for students who disrupt guest speaking events.

While enabling hate speech at colleges and universities, billionaire mega-donors are cracking down on students who publicly object to such speech. Meanwhile, the same wealthy conservatives' family foundations fund ideological higher ed programs that serve their business interests. The Charles Koch Foundation, for example, gave $142 million to hundreds of colleges and universities from 2005 to 2015, largely toward free-market centers, professorships and courses. From these programs, Koch-funded think tanks and political groups recruit their favorite students to join the Kochs' mass libertarian sociopolitical movement.

Guests Speakers on the Left

While harder to find, there are liberal organizations with campus affiliates that sponsor guest speakers and other events. The Roosevelt Institute, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC, works to "rethink and reshape everything from local policy to federal legislation, orienting toward a new economic and political system: one built by many for the good of all." The nonprofit has 130 college and university chapters, which often meet regularly to develop campus, local and sometimes state-level policy proposals.

The institute provides grants and advice to student chapters. Senior program associate Aman Banerji told TNR that "95 percent of the time, students come to us with a thought for an event and then ask for recommendations." But Banerji couldn't recall the last time the institute funded a campus speaker, and he wasn't aware of a chapter inviting anyone particularly controversial to speak.

As the Trump administration advances discriminatory policy, bigoted authors and activists are giving speeches along the college circuit, facilitated by right-wing nonprofits. It's important for members of the university community to know which organizations are making this possible, and who funds them. It may prove effective for student dissenters to address AEI, YAF and Glittering Steel in their campaigns against racist speakers.

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Global Capitalist Crisis and Trump's War Drive

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

The recent US attack on Syria and mega-bombing of Afghanistan come at a time when the Trump regime is facing a mounting scandal over alleged Russian involvement in its 2016 electoral campaign, historically low approval ratings for an incoming presidency, and a growing mass grassroots resistance movement. US rulers have often launched military adventures abroad to deflect attention from political crises and problems of legitimacy at home.

Beyond Syria and Afghanistan, the Trump regime has quietly escalated military intervention throughout the Middle East and has proposed an increase of US$55 billion in the Pentagon budget. It has threatened military force in a number of hotspots around the world, including Syria, Iran, Southeast Asia, along NATO's eastern flank and in the Korean Peninsula. As rival centers of power emerge in the international system any such military adventure could snowball into a global conflagration with devastating consequences for humanity.

Journalists and political observers have focused on geopolitical analysis in attempting to explain rising international tensions. While such analysis is important, there are deep structural dynamics in the global capitalist system that are pushing ruling groups towards war. The crisis of global capitalism is intensifying despite what we have heard from mainstream economists and elites giddy with recent growth spurts and the inflation of stock prices. In particular, the system is facing what appears to be an intractable structural crisis of overaccumulation and of legitimacy.

Cyclical crises, or recessions, occur about every 10 years in the capitalist system and typically last some 18 months. There were recessions in the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and the early 2000s. Structural crisis, so called because the only way out of crisis is to restructure the system, occur approximately every 40-50 years. A new wave of colonialism and imperialism resolved the first recorded structural crisis of the 1870s and 1880s. The next structural, the Great Depression of the 1930s, was resolved through a new type of redistributive capitalism, referred to as the "class compromise" of Fordism-Keynesianism, social democracy, New Deal capitalism, and so on.

Capital responded to the structural crisis of the 1970s by going global. The emerging transnational capitalist class, or TCC, promoted vast neoliberal restructuring, trade liberalization, and integration of the world economy. The global economy experienced a boom in the late 20th century as the former socialist countries entered the global market and as capital, liberated from nation-state constraints, unleashed a vast new round of accumulation worldwide. The TCC unloaded surpluses and resumed profit-making in the emerging globally integrated production and financial system through the acquisition of privatized assets, the extension of mining and agro-industrial investment on the heels of the displacement of hundreds of millions from the countryside, a new wave of industrial expansion assisted by the revolution in Computer and Information Technology (CIT).

Yet capitalist globalization has also resulted in unprecedented social polarization worldwide. According to the development agency Oxfam, just 1 percent of humanity owns over half of the world's wealth and the top 20 percent own 94.5 of that wealth, while the remaining 80 percent must make due with just 4.5 percent.

Given such extreme polarization of income and wealth, the global market cannot absorb the output of the global economy. The global financial collapse of 2008 marked the onset of a new structural crisis of overaccumulation, which refers to accumulated capital that cannot find outlets for profitable reinvestment. Data from 2010 showed, for instance, that companies from the United States were sitting on $1.8 trillion in uninvested cash that year. Corporate profits have been at near record highs at the same time that corporate investment has declined.

As this uninvested capital accumulates, enormous pressures build up to find outlets for unloading the surplus. Capitalist groups, especially transnational finance capital, push states to create new opportunities for profit-making. Neoliberal states have turned to four mechanisms in recent years to help the TCC unload surplus and sustain accumulation in the face of stagnation.

One is the raiding and sacking of public budgets. Public finance has been reconfigured through austerity, bailouts, corporate subsidies, government debt and the global bond market as governments transfer wealth directly and indirectly from working people to the TCC.

A second is the expansion of credit to consumers and to governments, especially in the Global North, to sustain spending and consumption. In the United States, for instance, which has long been the "market of last resort" for the global economy, household debt is higher than it has been for almost all of postwar history. US households owed in 2016 nearly US$13 trillion in student loans, credit card debt, auto loans and mortgages. Meanwhile, the global bond market -- an indicator of total government debt worldwide -- had already reached US$100 trillion by 2011.

A third is frenzied financial speculation. The global economy has been one big casino for transnational finance capital, as the gap between the productive economy and "fictitious capital" grows ever wider. Gross world product, or the total value of goods and services produced worldwide, stood at some US$75 trillion in 2015, whereas currency speculation alone amounted to US$5.3 trillion a day that year and the global derivatives market was estimated at a mind-boggling US$1.2 quadrillion.

All three of these financial mechanisms may resolve the problem momentarily but in the long run they end up aggravating the crisis of overaccumulation. The transfer of wealth from workers to capital further constricts the market, while debt-financed consumption and speculation increase the gap between the productive economy and "fictitious capital." The result is ever-greater underlying instability in the global economy. Many now see a new crash as inevitable.

There is another mechanism that has sustained the global economy: militarized accumulation. Here there is a convergence around the system's political need for social control and its economic need to perpetuate accumulation. Unprecedented global inequalities can only be sustained by ever more repressive and ubiquitous systems of social control and repression. Yet quite apart from political considerations, the TCC has acquired a vested interest in war, conflict, and repression as a means of accumulation. CIT has revolutionized warfare and the modalities of state-organized militarized accumulation, including the military application of vast new technologies and the further fusion of private accumulation with state militarization.

As war and state-sponsored repression become increasingly privatized, the interests of a broad array of capitalist groups shift the political, social, and ideological climate toward generating and sustaining social conflict -- such as in the Middle East -- and in expanding systems of warfare, repression, surveillance and social control. The so-called wars on drugs, terrorism, and immigrants; the construction of border walls, immigrant detention centers, and ever-growing prisons; the installation of mass surveillance systems, and the spread of private security guard and mercenary companies, have all become major sources of profit-making.

The US state took advantage of the 9/11 attacks to militarize the global economy. US military spending skyrocketed into the trillions of dollars through the "war on terrorism" and the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The "creative destruction" of war acted to throw fresh firewood on the smoldering embers of a stagnant global economy. The Pentagon budget increased 91 percent in real terms between 1998 and 2011, and even apart from special war appropriations, it increased by nearly 50 percent in real terms during this period. In the decade from 2001 to 2011 defense industry profits nearly quadrupled. Worldwide, total defense outlays (military, intelligence agencies, Homeland Security/Defense) grew by 50 percent from 2006 to 2015, from $1.4 trillion to $2.03 trillion.

The cutting edge of accumulation in the "real economy" worldwide shifted from CIT before the dot-com bust of 1999-2001 to a military-security-industrial-financial complex -- itself integrated into the high-tech conglomerate - that has accrued enormous influence in the halls of power in Washington and other political centers around the world. An emergent power bloc bringing together the global financial complex with the military-security-industrial complex appeared to crystallize in the wake of the 2008 collapse. The class interests of the TCC, geo-politics, and economics come together around militarized accumulation. The more the global economy comes to depend on militarization and conflict the greater the drive to war and the higher the stakes for humanity.

The day after Donald Trump's electoral victory, the stock price of Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit immigrant detention and prison company in the United States, soared 40 percent, given Trump's promise to deport millions of immigrants. Military contractors such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin report spikes each time there is a new flare-up in the Middle East conflict. Within hours of the April 6 tomahawk missile bombardment of Syria Raytheon stock increased by $1 billion. Hundreds of private firms from around the world have put in bids to construct Trump's infamous US-Mexico border wall.

Populist rhetoric aside, the Trump regime's economic program constitutes neo-liberalism on steroids. Corporate tax cuts and deregulation will exacerbate overaccumulation and heighten the power bloc's proclivity for military conflict. Politicized and increasingly autonomous generals and retired military officials that occupy numerous posts in the regime control the US war machine. The generals may play a key role in geopolitical conjunctures and in the timing and circumstances around which US intervention and war escalate. Yet behind the Trump regime and the Pentagon, the TCC seeks to sustain global accumulation through expanding militarization, conflict, and repression. This gives a built-in war drive to the current course of capitalist globalization. Only a worldwide push back from below, and ultimately a program to redistribute wealth and power downward, can counter the upward spiral of international conflagration. 

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Will Trump's Global Family Planning Cuts Cause Side Effects?

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump is leading an assault on family planning around the world.

Most recently, his administration cut off US contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, which provides and funds reproductive health services in poor countries. That follows his reinstatement of what's known as the “global gag rule,” the executive order enacted by all Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan barring foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive US funding from even mentioning abortion.

But Trump wants to go even further than his GOP predecessors by slashing spending on global health efforts funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Deeper family planning retrenchment would, however, put millions of lives at risk.

US Family Planning Assistance

Trump's proposed 28 percent cut to the foreign aid and diplomacy budget could translate into a US$175 million reduction in USAID's family planning spending from 2015 levels.

The magnitude of these cuts pales in comparison with the nation's $4 trillion budget and the administration's overall plan to reduce non-military spending by $54 billion. But the potential impact on the lives of women, children and men in developing countries outweighs their monetary value.

Rolling back US support for family planning in developing countries is dangerous for two main reasons. First, contraception saves lives by limiting the total number of pregnancies, including those endangering mothers' lives. Second, as I explain in my book, Intimate Interventions in Global Health, past US funding for family planning had an unintended upside: it helped form the backbone of many countries' early HIV-prevention efforts and created organizations that remain central to the response to HIV.

The US government has identified 24 priority countries for family planning assistance, including 16 in sub-Saharan Africa. In these countries, on average only half of women who wish to avoid pregnancy are using modern contraception. That means US funding can go a long way toward helping these women have the number of children they desire.

Contraception Saves Lives and Strengthens Health Systems

Contraception lets women and men exercise reproductive freedom and averts maternal and infant deaths. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health, US foreign assistance for family planning in 2016 funded contraceptive services for 27 million girls, women and couples, helping avert 6 million pregnancies and 11,000 maternal deaths.

Fewer unintended pregnancies also means fewer maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion. Sub-Saharan Africa has both the world's highest fertility rate and the least access to safe abortion. US family planning assistance in 2016 helped prevent 2 million unsafe abortions resulting from unplanned pregnancies.

For the 22 priority nations with good data, the fertility rates average 4.5 children per woman, ranging from 2.3 in Bangladesh and India to 6.6 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In comparison, the US total fertility rate is 1.9 children per woman.

Designed to slow global population growth and encourage socioeconomic development, US spending on family planning in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s also yielded benefits beyond family planning.

Specifically, US-supported family planning organizations became the first responders when the HIV epidemic emerged. For example, to promote contraception, a group of Nigerian medical professionals founded the Society for Family Health in Nigeria in 1985 in partnership with PSI, a US nonprofit previously known as Population Services International that gets government funding.

In the 1990s, the HIV epidemic took off in Nigeria amid political chaos and government denial of the disease. As one of the main sources for condoms, the Society for Family Health helped prevent the spread of the as-yet untreatable virus. It remains both a key player in the response to HIV and a major recipient of US global health funding. Similar results were echoed across Africa.

In Intimate Interventions in Global Health, I also detail how US family planning helped build infrastructure for women's health research in Senegal that became useful for the fight to stop HIV's spread. Key researchers working at the Social Hygiene Institute, including Senegalese doctors Soulemayne Mboup and Ibrahim Ndoye, argued in the 1980s that effectively running family planning programs required comprehensive knowledge of sexually transmitted infections among women. USAID agreed and invested in laboratory capacity, which ultimately supported Senegal's successful response to the epidemic.

What to Expect Once the US Cuts Global Health Spending

For sure, the impact of the US government's cessation of United Nations Population Fund support will be largely symbolic. In 2015, Washington's $76 million contribution amounted to about 7.5 percent of the global agency's $993 million budget.

Previously, when the US has refused to support the global agency, other countries stepped in to fill the gap. It's unclear whether other countries or additional funders, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would be willing to do so if Congress embraces Trump's broader proposed cuts to global health assistance. (The Gates Foundation spent $144 million on family planning in 2015, slightly less than a quarter of what USAID spent on family planning that year.)

Family planning funding alone could not stop HIV from infecting the 1.2 million Americans living with the virus that causes AIDS, but it did help slow the virus's spread in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly when governments widely denied the need to make treatment and prevention high priorities.

Cutting US funding for global health efforts, including family planning, would leave the poorest countries ill-prepared for epidemics, pandemics and other emerging health threats -- including the kinds that easily cross borders. This negligible budgetary savings will ultimately cost rich and poor nations in the future.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Categories: Latest News

Harvesting Union Rights in the Field

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

Eli Porras Carmona had been coming to work planting and harvesting sweet potatoes in North Carolina for eight years when he got a call from Mexico. His wife needed emergency surgery and he had to return home.

Carmona works under the H-2A program, where thousands of guestworkers are granted temporary permits to work on farms in the US for up to 10 months per year.

Many return year after year -- and since guestworkers are tied to one employer, it's risky to speak out on the job. The employer can easily send you home, or not call you back the next season.

But unlike most guestworkers, many in North Carolina have a say in their working conditions and seniority rights because they belong to a union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

Carmona's employer assured him he could come back the following year. When the time came, however, he was told his name was not on the list.

A friend advised him to call FLOC, and the union helped Carmona file a grievance and negotiate with his employer. Three weeks later, his name was back on the list. "It's meant the wellbeing of my family," says Carmona. "Thanks to the union, I am able to work."

Pressure From the Top 

Farmworkers are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act and from labor laws in most states, including in North Carolina. So how does FLOC find the leverage to resolve grievances and negotiate contracts with growers, especially when most of its members are immigrant guestworkers?

Through a combination of member organizing and corporate campaigning FLOC has pressured companies at the top of the supply chain, which have brand names you might recognize from the supermarket, to require their suppliers, the growers who run individual farms, to recognize the union.

FLOC, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, had an early win with Campbell's Soup. A 600-mile march and boycott pushed Campbell's to recognize union elections and an independent labor relations board. In 1986 FLOC won a contract that covers Campbell's and its growers associations, representing Ohio and Michigan tomato and pickle farms.

Then in 2003, FLOC won a collective agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association after a six-year campaign targeting its biggest brand, Mt. Olive Pickles. The contract covers workers who plant and harvest cucumbers, sweet potatoes, tobacco, Christmas trees, and a variety of other crops.

Rights in the Field

Since the agreement covers the majority of H-2A workers in North Carolina, 10,000 guestworkers like Carmona have the protection of a union contract, guaranteeing them the right to appeal unjust warnings and firings, protection against retaliation, and an employee bid system based on seniority that determines who gets to return to work the following year.

It also provides family leave allowing workers to go home in an emergency -- one of the protections that helped Carmona get his job back. 

About 20 percent of the guestworkers covered under the agreement have joined the union. Carmona himself wasn't a dues-paying member when he contacted FLOC, but the union offers its representation to any worker who asks. The experience convinced him to sign up and help recruit others. 

In 2016, FLOC resolved over 500 grievances, affecting at least 2,000 workers. The most common grievances dealt with wage theft or the bid system.

Informal Stewards

To teach members their rights and how to enforce the contract, each summer FLOC holds regional trainings across North Carolina, where staffers explain how to talk to co-workers about their rights and members practice in role-plays.

Abel Cruz Cabrera has been working in North Carolina for nine years, harvesting cucumbers, tobacco, and tomatoes. He acts as an informal steward in his workplace. "I give my co-workers an orientation to what I've learned from the union," he says. "I give them an idea of how they can defend themselves, how to act, and what the tools are.

"As workers we have to be more united. I can't say, 'I'm unionized, and you're not, so I won't share information.' No, I have to speak up and never stay quiet."

Cabrera was able to join the H-2A program through his father, Albino Cruz Bueno, who's been a member of FLOC since he started working in North Carolina in 2004.

Nonmembers are often nervous about speaking up, says Bueno, but "I tell them they don't need to be afraid, and we have to speak up to defend our rights." He's been part of union fights that won access to drinking water and housing repairs. Guestworkers live in company-provided housing, where poor conditions are a chronic problem.

This year FLOC negotiated a new three-year contract with the North Carolina growers. Bueno and Carmona were on the bargaining team. "It was difficult, but thanks to the union we had the courage to speak and participate," Bueno says.

Meet Up Back Home 

With workers spread out across rural areas, the biggest challenge of union meetings is often just getting members there. FLOC relies on volunteers to pick up members who work long hours and often don't have their own transportation in and out of camps.

That's why FLOC also prioritizes outreach and organizing in Mexico, where members are based for at least two winter months of the year, and often longer. A union organizer based in Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo León, Mexico, meets with members in their homes and organizes membership meetings.

Sixty members gathered in Monterrey March 18-19 for a leadership training and planning meeting. It was Cabrera's fifth time there.

"It's a chance to share our opinions, the problems that are happening where we work, and to exchange lots of ideas," he says. "Most important, we learn how to be organized on every farm, in every workplace."

Inch by Inch

Workers discussed resolutions for FLOC's upcoming convention. "We talk about what's going in each of our workplaces, what is not good," says Cabrera. "And we decide what we want to address and fight for in North Carolina."

Carmona came prepared with several proposals, including how to address problems with the three-day bus ride workers have to take from Mexico to North Carolina. "Some of the buses have deplorable conditions," he says. "The seats sometimes are broken, the air conditioning doesn't work, and the bathroom smells terrible after the second day."

Cabrera has seen the union win important changes through a combination of contract negotiations, lawsuits, and grievances. "Before, we had to work half the season before we got reimbursed for our travel costs from Mexico," he says. "But through the union, we fought and that's no longer the case. Now as soon as we arrive we get our reimbursement, and the reality is we really need that money."

Between April and June most workers will start arriving in the US, where the new government has many apprehensive. "We feel scared about the racism," says Carmona. "It's only a few, not the majority, but we feel nervous about the people we will encounter in the street.

"We simply come to the United States to work, for the sake of our families," he adds. "It is never our intention to take away work from anybody." 

Quotes in this article have been translated from Spanish.

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The Energy Lobbyists Linked to Trump's Offshore Drilling Plans

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Arbyreed; Edited: LW / TO)

This month US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that President Trump plans to issue an executive order expanding offshore drilling in areas now off limits, including the Atlantic Ocean and parts of the Arctic.

Trump's order would amend the Obama administration's five-year drilling plan that excluded lease auctions in those areas through 2022. It would also open the door to reversing President Obama's decision to permanently withdraw most of the US Arctic and an area of the Atlantic stretching from New England to the Maryland-Virginia border from the federal offshore leasing program -- an effort that environmentalists think would be ultimately unsuccessful due to how laws governing offshore drilling are written.

Although the decision could affect thousands of square miles of ocean waters, the Trump administration's offshore drilling plans weren't announced at a press conference or other public setting. Instead, Secretary Zinke, a former Montana congressman who earned low marks for his environmental record during his two-year tenure in the US House, unveiled the proposal at a closed-door meeting of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) in Washington, D.C. His remarks were reported by Bloomberg, who spoke to three attendees on condition of anonymity.

So what is NOIA, and how did it come to have such clout?

Launched by oil giant Exxon in the 1970s, NOIA is a trade association that advocates for the offshore drilling industry. Its 300 member companies include oil and gas "supermajors" like BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell, as well as drilling contractors, seismic testing firms and shipbuilders. The group also includes banking and investment firms that serve the industry such as Capital One, Credit Suisse and Wells Fargo Energy Group.

NOIA's CEO is Randall Luthi, a former Wyoming state lawmaker and aide to Dick Cheney when the former vice president served in Congress. Luthi served in the Department of Interior under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and as deputy director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service under George W. Bush. According to the most recent publicly available NOIA tax filing, NOIA has an annual budget of over $3 million and pays Luthi over $600,000.

From mid-2007 to late 2009, Luthi served as head of Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS), which was reorganized after BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster due to conflict-of-interest and oversight issues. During his tenure, the agency was embroiled in an ethics scandal involving allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. The wrongdoing reportedly occurred between 2002 and 2006, before Luthi came to the agency, and Luthi has said MMS requested an investigation by the agency's inspector general after receiving whistle-blower complaints in the spring of 2006.

But Luthi was the central figure in another controversy over the revolving door between MMS and the oil and gas industry, an issue that drew criticism from public interest groups for many years. Just over a year after leaving his post at the regulatory agency, Luthi became president of NOIA and began advocating for the industry's interests with the agency he used to lead. In 2010 testimony before a US House committee, the watchdog Project on Government Oversight (POGO) called Luthi's move to NOIA "the most egregious example" of the MMS revolving-door problem.

"When the director of MMS joins a trade association whose explicit mission was to secure a 'favorable regulatory and economic environment for the companies that develop the nation's valuable offshore energy resources,' taxpayers have to question whose interests were actually being served when he was at MMS," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. "In the case of Mr. Luthi -- who joined the trade association approximately 14 months after leaving MMS -- it's unclear whether he was always ideologically opposed to the agency's mission."

NOIA's Strategic Campaign Giving

In 2011, the governors of Southern states launched an initiative to expand offshore drilling in Atlantic waters. The Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, which was led by former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, was administered behind the scenes by a front group for oil and gas industry lobbyists called the Consumer Energy Alliance, of which NOIA is a member.

Since then, NOIA has spent $279,000 lobbying Congress, the Department of the Interior, the Commerce Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org database.

A political action committee tied to NOIA has also spent over $700,000 since 2011 supporting the campaigns of key members of Congress. Among the top beneficiaries of the NOIA PAC were representatives from Southeastern states where the industry is pushing for seismic testing for oil and gas reserves, and eventually offshore drilling:

  • In the 2016 election cycle, NOIA's PAC was a top contributor to lawmakers including Reps. Scott Rigell of Virginia, Richard Hudson and David Rouzer of North Carolina, and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, according to OpenSecrets.org. Rigell left office in January after deciding not to run for re-election.
  • In the 2014 cycle, NOIA's PAC was a top contributor to Reps. Morgan Griffith of Virginia, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina (now Trump's budget director), and John Mica and Steve Southerland of Florida. During this election cycle the energy industry PAC was also a top contributor to US Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
  • In the 2012 cycle, NOIA's PAC was a top contributor to Reps. Rob Wittman of Virginia and Florida's Tom Rooney and Connie Mack, who has since left office to become a lobbyist.

Other members of Congress receiving donations from the NOIA PAC during those election cycles were Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia; Patrick McHenryand Robert Pittenger of North Carolina; Jim Clyburn, Trey Gowdy, Tom Rice, Mark Sanford and Joe Wilson of South Carolina; Sanford Bishop of Georgia; and Carlos Curbelo, Bill Posey and Dennis Ross of Florida. Beneficiaries also included former Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Georgia's John Barrow, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Tom Price, who's now Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services.

On the Senate side, additional recipients of NOIA PAC contributions during the past three key election cycles included Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and David Perdue of Georgia. NOIA also contributed to the unsuccessful 2012 US Senate campaign of George Allen of Virginia and to the campaign of former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who resigned in 2013 to serve as president of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

All of those lawmakers are Republicans except for Reps. Clyburn of South Carolina and Barrow and Bishop of Georgia. NOIA's political donations overwhelmingly favor Republicans; in the 2016 election cycle, for example, 95 percent of its contributions went to GOP candidates, according to OpenSecrets.org.

NOIA's political giving will help position it in what's sure to be a pitched political battle over any Trump administration efforts to open the Atlantic to drilling. The push to allow oil and gas exploration in the region under the Obama administration sparked an uprising by Atlantic Coast residents and their representatives concerned about the impact on local economies dependent on tourism and fishing, and ultimately led the Obama administration to cancel plans to open the area to drilling.

To date, more than 120 East Coast municipalities, over 1,200 elected officials and an alliance representing over 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic testing in the Atlantic. They include NOIA political beneficiaries Reps. Sanford of South Carolina and Posey of Florida, showing that getting money from the organization does not necessarily translate into supporting its agenda.

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It's Time to Regulate the Gig Economy

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 21:00

Over a century ago, labor laws began to be instituted in diverse countries throughout the world. These laws were intended to provide protection to workers in what was recognized as an unequal relationship of exchange, but it also gave authority to managers to organize and direct their employees' work. While the world of work has changed since these initial labor regulations were instituted, the fundamental reasons for the existence of labor protections -- to ensure safe and healthy workplaces, to give workers a voice, and to provide minimum protections with respect to working time and earnings -- remain valid. 

Although it would seem straightforward that the laws protecting workers should also apply to workers in what is described as the 'gig economy' or 'platform-based work', there is much debate -- and confusion -- on this issue. This lack of clarity stems in part from the novelty of platform-based work. There has also been an effort to conceal the nature of platform-based work through buzzwords such as 'favors', 'rides', and 'tasks' as well as the practice common to many platforms of classifying their workers as independent contractors.

Platform-based work includes 'crowdwork' and 'work-on-demand via apps'. In crowdwork, workers complete small jobs or tasks through online platforms, such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, and Clickworker.  In 'work-on-demand via apps,' workers perform duties such as providing transport, cleaning, home repairs, or running errands, but the workers learn about these jobs through mobile apps, from companies such as Uber, Taskrabbit, and Handy. The jobs are performed locally.

Working as a "Favor"

Depicting work in the platform economy as a mere 'sharing of favours' conveys an image of the gig economy as a sort of parallel dimension, where chores are amateurishly carried out as a form of leisure, with no relation to 'work'. The reality, however, is different. For most workers, platform-based work is an essential source of income. The ILO recently surveyed workers on two important micro-task platforms: Amazon Mechanical Turk and Crowdflower. Forty percent of respondents answered that crowdwork constituted their principal source of income. Workers averaged 30 hours of week on the platform. 

Related to this is the assumption that the workers are genuinely self-employed persons, independent from the platforms and their users. Indeed, much of the rhetoric around the gig economy is that the workers 'are their own bosses' -- a new breed of 'micro-entrepreneurs' who work when and how they want, answering to no one and growing their own businesses. While there are some platforms that serve as marketplaces for buyers and sellers of goods, for platforms selling 'labor services' the worker is rarely operating independently. 

Platforms mediate extensively the transactions they have with their workers, and also between the customers and the workers.  Platforms often fix the price of the service as well as define the terms and conditions of the service, or they allow the clients to define the terms (but not the worker). The platform may define the schedule or the details of the work, including instructing workers to wear uniforms, to use specific tools, or to treat customers in a particular way.

Many platforms have performance review systems that allow customers to rate the workers and they use these ratings to limit the ability of lower-rated workers to access jobs, including by excluding workers from their system. The amount of direction and discipline that clients and platforms impose on workers, in many instances amounts to the degree of control that is normally reserved to employers and is normally accompanied by labor protections such as the minimum wage, limits on working time, and contributions to social security. This recent ILO study provides more detailed analysis on these features of platform-based work.

In a landmark judgment on Uber in October 2016, an employment tribunal in the United Kingdom dismissed the notion that the drivers run autonomous businesses merely linked by the platform. Among other things, the judge observed that it was impossible for them to grow their businesses unless "growing their business simply means spending more hours at the wheel". The judgment also found that, through the rating system, the platform subjected drivers to "what amounts to a performance management/disciplinary procedure", going beyond what is allowed in co-ordinating mere self-employed workers.

What's New About the 4.0 Economy?

When we look closely at the gig economy it becomes obvious that rather than 'new' 4.0 digital revolution work, 'gig economy' work is simply twenty first century casual work rebranded. The technology has changed, but it is still work undertaken by human beings and under the control of other human beings, in exchange for money. Indeed, gig work needs to be considered along with broader trends of casualisation of the labor market such as the spread of zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment. 

Because work in the gig economy is currently unregulated -- or is only regulated by the platform -- it is characterized by a lack of job security and few, if any, labor protections. Ironically, with day laborers, dockworkers, and agricultural hands -- probably the types of casual work that most readily come to mind -- their work is at least for the day.

In the platform economy, it is for the task at hand. This can be as short as a few kilometers drive or ten minutes spent tagging photos on the internet. The 'Turker', the Uber driver, or the graphic artist working on an online design platform must continuously search for work, monitoring their computer screens or smartphones for work opportunities. Indeed, in the ILO survey, it was found that workers averaged 18 minutes looking for work for every hour working.

Even when jobs span a few hours or a few days, the worker needs to be constantly searching for new work. Ninety percent of workers in the survey reported that they would like to be doing more work than they are currently doing, citing insufficient work and low pay as the reasons they were not. Despite the desire for more hours, many were already working a lot: 40% of respondents reported that they regularly worked seven days a week and 50% indicated that they had worked for more than 10 hours during at least one day in the past month. Low pay coupled with the need to work resulted in workers spending long hours online. 

The lack of protections for workers, the casual nature of the work and the elements of direction and control exerted by the platforms all point to a need to regulate the gig economy. Self-regulation by the platforms, as is currently the case, cannot ensure better working conditions and can jeopardize the sustainability of well-intended platforms in what is a global race to the bottom. Moreover, unless authorities step in and recognize that workers should not be denied protection just because they work for platforms, platforms will continue to have an advantage over traditional industries, risking a deterioration of working conditions that extends beyond platform-based work. 

Turning Technology to Support Regulation

But how to regulate? To begin with, the technology that has allowed parcelling and distributing work to 'the crowd' can also be used to regulate the work and provide protection to workers. Technology can monitor when workers are working, when they are searching for work, and when they are taking breaks. For example, Upwork, the on-line freelance marketplace, offers its clients the option of paying by the hour, as it can monitor the workers by recording their keyboard strokes and mouseclicks and taking random screen shots. Uber expects drivers to always have the app on, which can track drivers' whereabouts including their downtime.

This same technology can thus also be used to ensure that workers earn at least the minimum wage or ideally to regulate the wage agreed collectively by the workers and the platform. If labor protections are put in place, then platforms will have the incentive to re-organise work to limit search time. Technology and better organizational design can help to minimize search time, improving efficiency for all. The technology can also be used to facilitate payment of social security contributions. 

With nearly unlimited supplies of labor and an absence of liability placed on platforms, casualisation will continue. While it is easy to become enamored by the glitz and convenience of apps and the myth that we have broken from our past, we need to remember that these platforms are merely providing another way of mediating work -- driving and running errands, or doing data entry or audio transcription online are not 'new'. Technology is great -- let it help us make the world run more smoothly, not unravel the gains from the hard fought battles to improve worker's rights.  

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No Passwords at U.S. Border, Says New "Fly Don't Spy" Coalition

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 12:20
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Today, 29 organizations launched a campaign to oppose any type of “extreme vetting” that requires travelers to reveal their passwords to online accounts. The coalition created FlyDontSpy.com and will ask supporters to sign a petition to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly opposing any “password for entry” schemes.

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It Begins: Nurses to Rally in Sacramento April 26 for First Hearing on Bill to Guarantee Care for All Californians

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 12:19
National Nurses United

Hundreds of registered nurses and community activists will rally in Sacramento Wednesday, April 26 as the legislative journey begins with the first hearing on a bill to guarantee health care for all California residents with comprehensive health services and an end to out of control co-pays and deductibles.
 

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Peoples Climate March Will ‘Literally’ Surround the White House

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 12:16
People's Climate Movement

The Peoples Climate March announced it will ‘literally’ surround the White House as part of its mass mobilization in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 29th.

Tens of thousands are expected to converge on Washington, DC from virtually every state in the country. In addition, more than 290 sister marches are planned across the country and around the world.

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ACLU Statement on NCAA Awarding Championship Events to North Carolina

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 11:52
ACLU

The NCAA announced today that they will be returning championship events to sites in North Carolina for the first time since the state passed sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in 2016. The original law, HB 2, was replaced last month by a new law, HB 142, which continues to discriminate against transgender people.

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Monsanto Tribunal Judges Release Opinion: Monsanto Activities Violate Basic Human Rights

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 10:38
Organic Consumers Association

Today the five international judges for the Monsanto Tribunal presented their legal opinion, which include key conclusions, both on the conduct of Monsanto and on the need for important changes to international laws governing multinational corporations.

The judges conclude that Monsanto has engaged in practices that have impinged on the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food and the right to health. Additionally, Monsanto's conduct has a negative impact on the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.

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Patriotic Millionaires Demand to See Trump’s Tax Returns

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 09:40
Patriotic Millionaires

Joining hands with Americans across the nation, Patriotic Millionaires marched on Saturday to demand that President Trump release his taxes. His flippant lies about his audit and blatant refusal to release the documents can only mean one thing: he is hiding serious conflicts of interest. At a time when trust in the American government is at an all time low, President Trump is creating more hostility and more distrust.

Patriotic Millionaires in their own words:

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Death Row Prisoner Ledell Lee Seeks New Evidence to Prove His Innocence

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 09:38
ACLU

Innocence:

Arkansas death row prisoner Ledell Lee, now represented in federal court by Cassandra Stubbs of the ACLU, will appear before an Arkansas circuit court today to at 1:30 p.m. CT to argue that he is entitled to test critical evidence from his 1993 trial to prove his innocence. Lee seeks to test blood and hair evidence that has never been previously tested in the case.

The DNA pleadings are available here:
Motion for Testing

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IMF Warns of "Protectionism" and Risky Investing

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 08:00
Jubilee USA Network

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its bi-annual report on the state of the global economy, predicting that global growth will continue steadily but slowly. The report also raised the alarm on policies it labeled as "protectionism." The IMF expresses concern about the roll back of transparency regulations leading to a return of riskier global investing.

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European Authorities’ Policy Constraints Are Hampering French Economic Growth and Employment, New Report Finds

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 07:05
Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) concludes that policy constraints imposed on France by the European authorities, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are likely a significant drag on the French economy that limit options for increasing economic growth and decreasing unemployment.

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Trump Is Hiring Lobbyists and Top Ethics Official Says "There's No Transparency"

Truthout - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 07:01

President Trump arrives in West Palm Beach, Fla., aboard Air Force One, April 13, 2017. (Photo: Al Drago / The New York Times)

President Trump has stocked his administration with a small army of former lobbyists and corporate consultants who are now in the vanguard of the effort to roll back government regulations at the agencies they once sought to influence, according to an analysis of government records by the New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.

The Times adds new details to our previous reporting on Trump's weakening of ethics rules and former lobbyists working on regulations they opposed on behalf of private clients just months ago.

The Times scrutinized financial disclosures of top White House staffers and found that the lobbyists and consultants in their ranks had more than 300 recent corporate clients and employers, including Apple and Anthem, the insurance company.

One striking case involves Michael Catanzaro, an appointee on the National Economic Council whose portfolio includes energy and environmental issues. Catanzaro was formerly a lobbyist for oil and coal companies that strenuously opposed the Obama administration's clean power regulation. Three industry sources told the Times that Catanzaro is now working on that same issue in the Trump administration.

Even under Trump's weakened ethics rules, former lobbyists like Catanzaro are not supposed to work on issues that they formerly had lobbied on.

Still, under Trump's executive order, he can issue waivers at any time to staffers, Catanzaro included, for any reason, and never disclose it.

Even the federal government's top ethics official, Walter Shaub, who runs the Office of Government Ethics, is being kept in the dark.

"There's no transparency, and I have no idea how many waivers have been issued," Shaub told the Times.

At the Labor Department, there are at least two former lobbyists appointed by Trump who previously sought to influence agency regulations. One worked for a financial service firm fighting attempts to regulate financial advisers who manage retirement investments. Another, Geoff Burr, was the top government affairs official for the construction industry trade association, lobbying the agency on matters related to wages and workplace safety.

The hiring of dozens of lobbyists represents a reversal from Trump's statements during the campaign, when he said he would have "no problem" banning lobbyists from his administration.

The White House did not respond to specific questions from the Times. Instead, it offered this statement: "The White House requires all of its employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance and has aggressively required employees to recuse or divest where the law requires."

We've also reached out to the White House for comment.

In another blow to transparency, the administration announced Friday it will keep White House visitor logs secret, dropping the Obama-era practice of regularly posting that information.

Those logs offered the public a window into who was getting face time with the president and his staff. They were also used by journalists in countless stories: ProPublica, for example, used the visitor logs for a story last year about a lobbying campaign to push through a controversial airline merger. The logs showed that Rahm Emanuel visited the White House after meeting with airline executives who recruited him to push for the merger.

Categories: Latest News

PEACE ACTION: Pentagon Bloat Burgeons on Tax Day

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 06:18
Peace Action

On Tax Day, Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs for Peace Action, released the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

Fossil Fuel Corporations Are the Only Winners at White House Meeting on Paris Agreement

Commondreams - Tue, 04/18/2017 - 06:16
Friends of the Earth

Donald Trump’s advisors and cabinet officials will today convene a meeting to consider the United States’ commitment to the Paris Agreement, according to reports. The two choices under consideration are weakening the U.S’s already inadequate commitment under the Agreement or pulling out of the pact altogether.

Friends of the Earth Senior Political Director Ben Schreiber issued the following statement ahead of the meeting:

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